The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty Kindle Edition
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“A wise and skeptical account of the contemporary electorate.” –The Washington Post Book World
“Engaging. . . . Provocative . . . required reading for the public-policy—minded.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Thought-provoking.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A multifaceted treatment of a continuing public problem. . . . Readable and important.” –Greensboro News & Record
“Valuable. . . . Patterson’s clearly written book offers a menu of sound . . . measures to help solve these problems.” –Columbia Journalism Review
“Well-reasoned. . . . Offering pragmatic reforms, Patterson’s descriptions and prescriptions merit mulling by politically minded readers.” –Booklist
“Patterson’s book . . . isn’t just another tired lament about the lameness of the political process. It’s an extension of the Vanishing Voter Project, designed to discover ‘what draws people to a campaign and what keeps them away.’ ” –The Washington Monthly
“Outstanding. . . . A well-documented project that leads the reader through what works and what fails in our system, and how we can continue our representative republic and make it more responsive to the wishes of the electorate in the future.” –The Decatur Daily
From the Trade Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B002NXORFQ
- Publisher : Vintage (September 4, 2009)
- Publication date : September 4, 2009
- Language : English
- File size : 1230 KB
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- Print length : 288 pages
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Neither the increasing percentage of the people with the higher education, which was considered as a one of the factors boosting the participation; nor the victory of the Civil Rights movement on mid 60s; nor the Motor Voter Act, which dramatically increased accessibility of the voting made any significant change to this trend.
Does this falling interest of the public in participation in the political process diminish its health and legitimacy? Or vice versa, something is really broken in the American politics which discourages a desire of the citizens be associated or even tainted by the participation in the process?
Some analysts advocate - neither of these. Contrary to the alarmists, they say, a low turnout of the electorate means a healthier state of the governing affairs. Having a "good government" rather than having a good voting is "the fundamental human right", writes the columnist George Will in his essay "Defense of Nothing". He points out that the huge voter turnout contributed to the fall of Germany's Weimar Republic, and enabled the rise of Nazis to power.
The common wisdom of the potential voter of the end of XX - beginning of XXI century has become the realization that there is no significant difference between the major political parties, and that the elections are get rigged somehow that there are always no good candidates to vote for.
Some researchers, for example Larry Sabbato, propose an array of changes into the electoral procedures to correct the voter-manipulating practices. These measures extend from the simple shrinking of the electoral season which length dulls the voter interest and involvement; or eliminating the "front-loading" when the few, often low-populated agricultural states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, which happen to conduct their primaries and caucuses first, dictate the rest of the country the choice of the candidates; to dividing the electoral vote proportionally to the popular vote, like Nebraska and Maine do, or abolishing the Electoral College altogether.
However, originating from the premise that the more democracy is in Presidential elections the better, this point of view misses the important point of the American governing system, which is based on the ancient tripartite Indo-European social views.
Aristocratic Nature of the Presidential Title
The Indra's epithets of the heavenly Warrior-King: `alone', `on own wills' are augmented by the Latin `sodalis' - `member of secret society', which alludes obviously not only to the President George Washington's membership in the Free Mason Society, but a general position of a Monarch as a mere administrative position of the First Aristocrat among other equals.
Don't mistake the Asiatic customs of Despotism with European Limited Monarchies. Charles Montesquieu postulates a clear distinction between them. He devotes the entire book XXX of his treatise "The Spirit of the Law" to dissect arguments of the two academic researches of Henri de Boulainvilliers and Jean-Baptiste Dubos, which lay in the foundation of the ideological war between Fronde and Luis XIV in XVIII century. The former argued that the French King's power comes from the voluntary grant of it by the nobles of the Frankish tribes after the conquest of Gaul, and the encroachments of the Luis Absolute Monarchy on rights of Aristocracy are illegal. Dubos' work, a more thorough, but less candid, stated that there were no Gaul conquest, but the gradual diffusion of the Frankish people, and the authority of the King comes not form them, but inherit the Roman Emperor status. Montesquieu scrupulously collects the missing evidence for the Boulainvilliers' work, and make conclusion, that methodically inferior to Dubos', his work nevertheless expresses a more correct view on the origins of power of European Monarchs.
It was then, but what kind of `secret society' or supposedly non-existing any more aristocracy allegedly backs up the Presidential power? The Sunlight foundation, examining data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that the tiny percentage of very wealthy Americans are funding a large chunk of congressional and presidential campaigns:
In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That's 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.
Despite the illusion of the slogan "The Land of Opportunity", the recent report of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development demonstrates that the index of social mobility in USA 2 or 3 times lower than in most developed countries, tying only with Italy and yielding the last place to Grate Britain with its official aristocracy. Which effectively means that the probability of a son of financial tycoon becoming a tycoon, and a son of janitor remaining a janitor is much higher in US and GB, than in other developed countries.
Resemblance of the House of Lords of the British Parliament and the Senate in American Congress is not only formal. Even if we forget that, until the adoption of the XVII amendment at the beginning of XX century, Senators were not elected by the popular vote, having 2 seats per state regardless its population, gives the neo-aristocratic families of the "Mayflower" descendants an upper hand in lawmaking over the "nouveau riches" of the West Coast.
In general, when you hear deceptive, smoke and mirrors, terms "Federalism" or "State Rights", for all practical purposes, as The Other, Anti-Federalist Founding Fathers were arguing, you may replace them with the honest, straightforward expression "Aristocratic" (either centralized or local).
That is, speaking the IT language, "not a bug, but a feature", representing the Hamiltonian view on the permanent place of the "few and well-born" elites in the governing system. Idea of the direct popular Presidential elections got a light circulation on the Constitution Convention, but was quickly abandoned. Other possible solutions, such as elections by the Congress or the state legislatures were violating the trifold separation of powers too much, so the palliative of the Electoral College was adopted.
The original Electoral College schema, oriented on the independent representatives of the state legislative elites, casting their votes for the first and the next to the first choice of a candidate, in the chaotic clash of their wills and egos, was supposed to produce the unbiased, or, if you will, subconscious choice of the elite as a group. However, the plan didn't take into the account a possibility of the team play, the coordinated actions of party members.
After undisputed party-less elections of George Washington, the old-guard, pro-British, Federalist (say Aristocratic) party, got a new generation, pro-French, egalitarian rivaling Republican-Democratic party, lead by the idealistic renegade Thomas Jefferson, who didn't believe into the "magic" qualities of the "proper" structure of the government, but only into the freedom loving spirit of American people.
The stalled elections and the "Jeffersonian revolution" which followed them, introduced not only corrections of the XII amendment in the process of Presidential elections, but also brought masses into the focus of politicians. Elites had learned that the "turbulent and changing" masses might be harnessed by the more gentle party politics than by the original draconian procedures of the Presidential elections.
A decade later, President Andrew Jackson tried to convince Congress to abolish Electoral College, but the point of equilibrium was found when the states gave their gentlemen's words that they will tie their electoral votes to the popular ones. The parties were electing their Presidential candidates on the closed party conventions, and the populace was presented with the choice between two, may be quite different personalities, by belonging to the same caste.
This clockwork mechanism was functioning relatively flawlessly until the Chicago Democratic National Convention of 1968. Then, the egos and arrogance of the city mayor and party leaders led to the mass protests against the nomination of Hubert Humphrey, the unpopular candidate of the elites; a violent crackdown on the protests, and a scandalous trial of the activists known as the "Chicago Eight" case. The process had even overshadowed the first trials of Soviet dissidents, when not only eight Chicago protests activists were put behind bars, but also two attorneys who tried to defend them, making that really the "Chicago Ten" trial.
To alleviate the consequences of the disastrous convention, the McGovern-Fraser commission had worked out recommendations to make the nominee selecting process more open and more dependent from the popular opinion, leading to the current system of open or closed primaries and caucuses, when the Republican Party also followed the suite.
Ill-effects of the Popular Over-Involvement into Presidential Elections
As a result of the McGovern-Fraser commission developments, more low-ranking Americans were able to influence the Presidential candidate selection. But was that a positive shift in the political life?
It's a common wisdom of the political science that the post-McGovern-Fraser politics diminished its scope and became much more sectarian. Major issues were no longer discussed, and uncompromised vicious battles were fought over myriad of smaller agendas pushed by the special interest groups. The Hamilton's worst nightmare of the "turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right" general populace being involved into politics, had finally come to life.
On the contrary, a common contemporary explanation, or rather an excuse for such a turn of events has been found in the postulation that because all major problems were resolved, and the society became much more sophisticated, political live has concentrated on the smaller and diverse issues.
It's hard to seriously buy this argument. Ethnic minorities, yes, acquired their long-sought power, but the way it was done, through the provocations of violence, targeted on attracting attention of mass media, impeded the process of racial understanding and reconciliation. The theme of addressing the poverty and social inequality had completely vanished from the political radars, in many ways, because adepts of the economical conservatism craftily played the card of social conservatism. Now, poor white rednecks vote for the completely alien to them interests of financial elites, just because of the racial prejudice.
The rich and pluralistic public discourse of 60s had diminished to the standoff of the social conservatives, primarily of the religious fundamentalist origin, and various minorities. An understanding of the reasons of crime, anti-social and dysfunctional behavior had ceased to point to the social-economic reasons. It was replaced by simpler explanation that it was just particular predatory and inherently criminal persons who commit those acts. If there is no social cure for problems of crime or drug abuse, than there is no need in the long-term, complicated and costly programs, and the answer to these problems is to jail or execute the beasts. As a result the incarceration numbers in America skyrocketed to levels dwarfing the population of Stalin's GULAG even in its worst years. Political and social campaigns had begun to be compared with wars, and as in time of wars, they started to cut legal and moral corners to achieve the ever-elusive victory.
The same way as post McGovern-Fraser Presidents became "servants of two masters", and started to evade addressing big problems because any real solution would offend interests either of their masters, and concentrated on the small, irrelevant for the most, problems like "gay rights" or "spotted owl controversy", the social polls started also to peak low-flying targets for their studies. No surprise that studies of buying habits of Americans show a dramatic increase of the stratification of results (being interpreted as a society "sophistication"), on the backdrop of the social consciousness becoming more and more primitive with the rise of the popularity of simple recipes: "jail them", "execute them", or "bomb them".
The last Great President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, in his seminal address to the nation, "A Crisis of Confidence", which was quickly labeled by his opponents as the "Malaise speech", expressed the great concern about primitivization of the social and political life:
"The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July.
It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else -- public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.
Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose...
What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends...
...We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves".
Jimmy Carter was the first who utilized the new McGovern-Frazer system for his benefit, however those who followed him in his success didn't share Carter's view on the vices of American society. Ronald Reagan, who won sympathies of the voters in 1980 elections, saw what Jimmy Carter was talking about not as vices, but virtues. In his election eve address "A Vision for America", Reagan referred to the Carter's speech, stating: "I find no national malaise, I find nothing wrong with the American people", seeing America, in the Biblical terms, as a "shining city on a hill".
Technically speaking, from the binary logic point of view, Reagan was right. The general public had not changed neither since the middle of century, nor since the Hamiltonian times, nor since the times of Antiquity, remaining the same - selfish, greedy, shortsighted and treacherous. There is nothing wrong with that - those are the typical qualities of the Third Indo-European caste, the caste of Wellbeing and Procreation.
Plato, in his Republic, describing an abstract, how he called it "healthy" city inhabited by only artisans of various crafts, stated that there is no need in the explicit ruling of such a comity. It will be self-regulated by what we can call now, after the Adam Smith, an "invisible hand of the market". There is only one problem here - such a collective of individuals, concerned only with self-preservation, won't be able to create neither a great city, nor to defend it against their neighbors who would decide to go for such a "feverish", in Plato's terms, city. In such a "peasantry" city, by Carter's words, "a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, [will be] abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends".
To overcome this problem, a society needs another group of men, the "spirited" men. It's hard to reliably and for a long time to convince an individual preoccupied with his personal preservation that it is in his interests to die for the city. These are the other type of men, with the other, more intense, in a sense, "erotic" and idealistic desires who could be brave, courageous, self-renouncing and much more engaged into social life.
What is important in Carter's speech, is not his assessment (probably mistaken) that problems of the nation were caused by the change in public mores, but the very his appeal to these mores, his Plato's "spiritedness", qualifying Jimmy Carter as a great match to the Presidential title.
The same way, the villager's practicality of Reagan's solutions, which doesn't see any place for honor and moral obligations of the civilized society in domestic and international affairs, totally disqualifies Ronald Reagan for the Presidency:
"Too often, that team [Carter's] has operated under the assumption that the United States must prove and reprove and prove again its goodness to the world. Proving that we are civilized in a world that is often uncivilized -- and unapologetically so -- is hardly necessary".
The greatest problem introduced by the McFarland-Fraser reform is that the general populace, when acquired the greater elective power, choses their look-alikes, with the personal traits totally unfit for the Presidential post, the Leader of the Second Indo-European caste. The personal qualities of the former comedians, saxophone players, sexual adventurers with interns, drunkards, the representatives of the typical Third caste occupations, add not only a rustic charm to international gatherings of the world leaders, but gravely affect the politics.
In fact, most of the today's world problems are predictably grown and provoked by the post-Carter Presidents.
The cowardly withdrawal of the State from the regulations of markets, and avarice of the dismantling social security nets and slashing taxes for the rich led to the unprecedented rise of the wealth inequality and the current economic crisis.
The pure jealousy without practical reasoning, and even against it, under the slogan "Let Soviets have their Vietnam!", led to the support of the Afghan mujahidin and personally Osama Bin Laden, the core of the future Taliban and al-Qaeda movements. Although some financial support started in the time of Carter's administration, it really exploded, accompanied also by training of terrorists and the weapon supply during Reagan's years.
The trickery of the promise to Mikhail Gorbachev not to invade into the zone of interests of Russia in exchange to dissolution of the Eastern Block and dismantling Soviet Union, and a convenient forgetting of the promise later on, as well as involvement into the wide spread cheating during the second Yeltsin's elections, caused the rise of anti-American sentiment in Russia, which was used by the authoritarian post-Yeltsin's regime to bolster its legitimacy.
The petty political profiteering worth small village fraudsters, when Reagan's Administration was supporting Saddam Hussein in Iraq-Iran war, closing its eyes on the use of chemical weapons by Iraqi troops, at the same time the Iran-Contra schema was invented to supply Iran with weapons with the help of Israeli secret service; as well as the provocative posture of the George Bush Senior Administration which made Saddam Hussein believe it gave him a green light to invade Kuwait; as well as the WMD disinformation campaign of George W. Bush, caused the loss hundreds of thousand lives claimed in Gulf Wars, a total devastation of the civil infrastructure and violent sectarian divisions in Iraq, which once had been one of the most developed secular countries of the region.
The unprincipled use of the Carter's Camp-David accords between Egypt and Israel, which was supposed to be an example of the peace relationships between Israel and Arab countries, by succeeding Presidents as a divide-and-conquer tactic allowed to endure the apartheid-style (by Jimmy Carter's words) Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
The unfair and one-sided prosecution of the participants of Yugoslav conflicts led to such scandalous cases, as reports the former Chief Prosecutor of Hague Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, when a heavy pressure was projected to stop investigations of the organ harvesting from Serbian captives by the Albanian Kosovar militants.
The dividing line between "spirited" and "dishonorable" politics comes not through the party boundaries. Another Last Great President, Richard Nixon, was pushing for a national health system, which is an ultimate anathema for contemporary Republicans. Though he didn't succeed, Nixon was able to build the national health system for the people with kidney failure not because it was financially sound, but because it was the "right" thing to do. That time a technology of dialysis was developed, but without such a national coverage, the real, not imagined by today's conservatives, "death comities" were choosing those whose lives were "socially worth" to save. For the person of the Second caste, caste of Honor, there exist no problem in deciding what to do in such case.
However, how voters could determine who of the Candidates possesses the needed qualities, if they mostly belong to the Third, the Commoners caste? They have to be educated in the Indo-European origins of our political system. Taking these implications into account during the voting will relieve the growing dissatisfaction and passivity in voting, and will tremendously improve the quality of the Presidents and their politics.
Thomas Patterson, unconsciously, gives a hint how Presidential elections should be viewed by the general populace:
"Although they are still a major attraction, even the October presidential debates get less attention than before. Except for the Super Bowl, the Summer Olympics, and the Academy Awards, the debates are the most watched events on television".
That is an enlightened sight into the core of the problem of voters' disengagement. It is absolutely irrelevant what are the political views of, say, Roger Federer, Serena Williams or Tom Cruise as World Champions or Award Winners; but only their personal traits, matching the requirements of games they play, what is important.
The same way it's absolutely irrelevant what are the political views of Presidential Candidates, unless you belong to the top 400 of the neo-aristocratic families capable affecting core political agendas of the Presidential power. For all the rest, it's just a matter of admiration of the personal traits needed for the game of the trifold power separation invented by the ancient Indo-European cultures.
There are some interesting and challenging issues about why voters seemingly do not wish to participate. A primary analysis would be to understand whether the almost compulsive registration efforts like Motor Voter - are efficacious policies. California voters recently rejected a measure for same day registration even though the pro side out spent the anti side by several fold.
It would have been interesting and useful to go through the expected benefits of making registration as easily available as shopping coupons. But this book does not do that. It would also have been helpful to think a bit about the decline in party registrations - as participation rates have seemingly declined so have party affiliations. What is the relationship of those two things?
The role of campaign consultants is also glossed over. We have created a generation of consultants who believe driving down turnout is a good idea. I would have liked to know more about substantive ways to control those problems.
The book concludes with a section of proposed reforms. Here I rest with the Tammany Senator Conklin who had a tremendous disrespect for "reformers" especially ones that relfect little about the complexity of our society at the present time. Each of the solutions might be a good idea but there is little substantive argumentation to defend the solution. For example, there are plenty of good arguments against the Electoral College - although there are also some very good arguments for its retention - but Patterson just trots out the one alternative without ever putting the solution in context.
One would hope that someone would take another bite at getting these kinds of issues on the table for a serious discussion.
In 1990, 63% of Americans voted in the presidential election; in 2000 only 51% did. Meanwhile, the number of college graduates has risen, racial bars to voting have fallen, and registration laws have been simplified. (Roughly 10% of Americans cannot vote - eg. felons, compared to eg. 2% in the U.K.)
The "Vanishing Voter" is based on over 80,000 interviews during the 2000 campaign and reveals hints about the political sources of voter discontent.
Since many 1960 Southern voters were effectively barred from participating (poll tax; literacy tests) from voting, the clearest picture of what's been happening with turnout emerges from a look at non-Southern states only - 70% in 1960, 50% in 1996.
Bottom Line: The U.S. oldest continuous democracy, has nearly the lowest voting rate in the world. The shrinking electorate has come to include proportionately more older citizens, higher incomes, or hold hold intense opinions on issues like gun control, abortion - overall slightly favoring Republicans.
The decline can't be due to increased satisfaction with government. By the 1990s, only about 40% of major bills enacted were in line with what the majority said they wanted government to do; two decades earlier it had been 60%.
Negative campaigning is a problem. About 35% of "prominent" campaign ads in 1972 and 1976 were negative or attack ads; this rose to 83% in 1988 and even higher in 1996.
Interesting and important points are raised. Unfortunately, "The Vanishing Voter" does not tell us why this is happening.